He condemned China’s “expanding fishing fleet” and its “outposts on man-made islands bristling with advanced weaponry to advance its illegal maritime claims” while the country’s “vessels plunder the region’s provisions, operating illegally within the territorial waters of other Indo-Pacific countries.”
“Indo-Pacific countries shouldn’t face political intimidation, economic coercion, or harassment by maritime militias,” Austin said Saturday in a keynote address to the Shangri-La Dialogue, Asia’s premier defense conference, held in Singapore.
The secretary vowed the Defense Department “will maintain [its] active presence across the Indo-Pacific.”
Austin also condemned China’s aggression toward Taiwan, the island of 24 million people that considers itself independent from China, whereas the mainland views it as a territory of its own country.
“We’ve seen an alarming increase in the number of unsafe aerial intercepts and confrontations at sea by PLA aircraft and vessels,” he said, before reaffirming America’s commitment to its “one China” policy, which rejects Taiwanese independence.
“We remain firmly committed to our long-standing one-China policy — guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the three Joint Communiques, and the Six Assurances. We categorically oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo from either side,” the secretary said. “We do not support Taiwan independence. And we stand firmly behind the principle that cross-strait differences must be resolved by peaceful means.”
A Chinese military leader accused Austin of pushing “unfounded accusations.”
“There were many unfounded accusations against China, and we expressed our strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition to these false accusations,” Lt. Gen. Zhang Zhenzhong, the deputy chief of the Joint Staff Department of China’s Central Military Commission, told reporters, according to CNN.
Last month, President Joe Biden appeared to announce a shift in policy when he affirmed during a press conference in Asia that the United States would intervene militarily in Taiwan, though the White House later said he was not discussing a policy change. This was not the first time his communications team had to backpedal an apparent promise to use the military to defend Taiwan.
Austin met with his Chinese counterpart, Minister of National Defense Gen. Wei Fenghe, on Friday.